Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Last Swan Song in Orange and Black

“I’d say this is the most important signing we’ve had since we first signed Barry Bonds back in late 1992.” 

former San Francisco Giants owner, Peter MaGowen, December 20, 2006

(photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The day Barry Zito became a San Francisco Giant there were was overall a positive feeling about it in San Francisco.  Sure there were some critical of the deal, but this was a guy that had a track record that showed he would give a team 200 innings of quality starting pitching and keep his team in games.  The Giants outbid the Rangers, Mets, Mariners and other suitors for the crafty lefty who had made his mark with Oakland.   

It’s easy to sit back and criticize the Barry Zito contract negotiated by Scott Boras which was $126 million over 7 years.   Kick in a buyout option after the 7th year, (which turns out to be 2013), the the total price tag to the Giants was $133 million.  Yeah, it was pretty bad.  For every victory that Zito provided over the seven years of that deal, the Giants paid $2.15 million.

There have been worse deals.  The Dodgers, for example, signed Jason Schmidt and paid $46 million for three wins over three years of injury plagued seasons.  Let’s not even go there with the Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez deals that Ned Colletti crafted for Los Angeles.  The thing is with the Giants, this Zito deal stung them hard as the franchise couldn’t afford many financial blunders without there being some sort of long term affect.

San Francisco isn’t considered a small market team by any means as the revenue streams coming in to the Giants from their sell outs night after night have to be healthy, but their TV contract dwarfs anything coming out of New York or Los Angeles.  The bottom line is that the team can’t afford to sign marquee players to deals that go south without the ramifications being felt on the field.  In a place like L.A., the Dodgers can overcome bad deals, because money is just that, money.

(photo  by Harry How/Getty Images)
Zito sported a 62-80 record with a 4.75 ERA over seven seasons in the best pitcher’s park in MLB.  Certainly it was nothing to be impressed with.  Zito’s contract was criticized by some from the get go, as his career had been trending downward for about four years after his amazing 2002 Cy Young worthy season.   He appeared to be suffering from a case of “rabbit ears” as he obviously read the press clippings and heard the talk-radio criticism.  He vowed to start his career with the Giants on a high note and in the best shape of his career.  

He got concerned about the radar gun.  Zito's off season workout in 2007 centered around how he could change his mechanics to increase his velocity.  It wasn’t the pitcher he was, but if you watched his starts that year, glances over at the scoreboard to check out the speed of his pitches was a constant occurrence.  

Finesse was Zito’s game and when he concerned himself with location, change of speed and breaking stuff, he could be effective.  That was the case for a period of time last season and during a special two games in the 2012 post-season when he shut down both St. Louis in an elimination NLCS game and later the Tigers in the World Series.  There are those that will say that Zito earned his $133 million right there.  Perhaps there is some merit to that argument, but one thing is certain, 2013 has been an absolute nightmare for him, which probably signals the end of his baseball career.

Zito was removed from the Giants rotation in early August after six consecutive “non-quality” starts.  His fastball is now hitting the low 80s.  The curveball he used to throw with so much success makes up only 17% of his arsenal.  He is dependent on his slider now, a pitch he throws 33% of the time.  When Zito won the Cy Young Award in 2002, he didn’t even have a slider to throw.  With very little differentiation in velocity from his fastball to his breaking pitches, hitters are able to adjust to his stuff much easier.  The result hasn’t been pretty.

The consummate team player, Zito is no stranger to being passed over and sitting on the bench.  The Giants kept him off the 2010 playoff and World Series rosters and he took the demotion with dignity.  He recovered enough from that setback to be a World Series hero last year, so there is some love in the city by the Bay for Zito.  Tonight looks to be his last performance as a Giant.

For Barry Zito tonight may actually be his goodbye to baseball as well.  He’s bound to be fired up.  He hasn’t seen in game action in 23 days, a spot start at San Diego on September 2nd, where he gave up four runs in 4 innings.  Zito hasn’t started at home since August 21st when the Red Sox tore him up for six runs in just over three innings of work.

Look for a fired up Zito to give everything he’s got in the final start of his career tonight.  He hasn’t had a quality start since June 22nd, a familiar date to Dodger fans this season.  Perhaps that’s an omen.  Tonight might be an interesting performance on the mound for us to watch.  Zito might get shelled and it’ll be no surprise to anyone.  Or he could close out his career in a positive way, digging deep down and reaching for something that is within him.  Just one last time.

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